Fernando Tatis Jr. celebrates with teammate Manny Machado

Fernando Tatis Jr has already ascended to superstardom in just his second MLB season. Photo by @DannyVietti (Twitter).

  • Everyone with eyes agrees that the LA Dodgers are the team to beat in the National League
  • Oddsmakers differ on which team is the biggest threat to Los Angeles, though
  • The young, dynamic San Diego Padres have moved ahead of the Atlanta Braves at certain sportsbooks

The Los Angeles Dodgers have been short favorites in the National League pennant odds since the MLB futures opened in late January. Boasting an MLB-best 32-12 record and +101 run differential, the Dodgers are living up to the hype that accompanied the acquisition of 2018-AL MVP Mookie Betts in the offseason.

The San Diego Padres, who finished 2019 dead-last in the AL West at 70-92 with a -107 run differential, were a popular dark-horse pick to make some noise. A year after singing Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300-million contract, the front office added the likes of Drew Pomeranz, Emilio Pagan, Jurickson Profar, Tommy Pham, and Zach Davies.

The additions weren’t as splashy, but when coupled with a young core that included Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, and Fernando Tatis Jr, the upside was clear. Three-quarters of the way through the 60-game regular season, that upside is manifesting. The Friars have the second-best record in the NL (28-17) and, at least at Bet365, the second-best odds to win the NL pennant.

NL Pennant Odds

Team Odds at Bet365
LA Dodgers +120
San Diego Padres +550
Atlanta Braves +650
Chicago Cubs +700
Philadelphia Phillies +1100
St Louis Cardinals +1400
Miami Marlins +2000
San Francisco Giants +2000
Milwaukee Brewers +2200
NY Mets +2500
Cincinnati Reds +2800
Colorado Rockies +3000
Washington Nationals +4500
Arizona Diamondbacks +17500
Pittsburgh Pirates +125000

Odds as of September 10th.

On average, San Diego’s odds to reach the World Series are +688, which remains slightly behind the Atlanta Braves (+600) in the NL pennant futures.

San Diego hasn’t reached the World Series since 1998 and has never won a championship in its 51-year history.

Tatis Jr Leads a Potent Offense

Fernando Tatis Jr entered the season with reasonably short +1150 NL MVP odds. He’s now the favorite, and is even the odds-on chalk at some betting shops. The 21-year-old shortstop is slashing .396/.635/1.031. His 15 home runs lead the NL and his 40 RBI are second to Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman (42). He has become a full-on superstar in just his second year in the majors.

A massive difference-maker compared to last season has been the production of Machado, who sits third in the NL in RBI (38). Machado’s numbers in basically every meaningful statistic are significantly better than his 2019 campaign.

Manny Machado: 2019 vs 2020

2019 Statistic 2020
.256 Batting Average .307
.334 On-Base Percentage .376
.462 Slugging Percentage .597
.796 OPS .973

Generally batting a spot behind Tatis in the lineup, Machado is giving the youngster tremendous protection. They have powered the Friars to the best offense in baseball (264 runs), not just the NL.

The Pitching Is Better Than It Seems

San Diego’s staff, as a whole, has the 12th-worst ERA in baseball (4.59) and that’s while playing in pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

That doesn’t sound like championship material.

But looking beyond bare ERA, the Padres pitching staff has been among the best. The team sits fourth in the majors in FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching), which “measures what a player’s ERA would [be] if the pitcher were to have experienced league average results on balls in play and league average timing,” per FanGraphs.

In short, the Padres pitchers have been unlucky and haven’t had stellar defensive play behind them. Luck is a factor that tends to regress to the mean over time, which is a fancy way of saying San Diego’s team ERA should go down (in a good way).

Chris Paddack was expected to be the ace of the staff coming into the year, coming off a rookie campaign in which he posted a 3.33 ERA, a stellar 0.981 WHIP, and 9.8 K/9.

A sophomore slump has left Paddack with a 4.75 ERA this year, worst among the Padres’ starters.

Third-year pro Dinelson Lamet has been happy to slide into Paddack’s spot as the ace, though. The 28-year-old is eighth among qualified starters in the NL with a 2.24 ERA and ninth in WHIP (0.92). Coupled with Zach Davies (2.48 ERA) and trade-deadline acquisition Mike Clevinger (3.18 ERA last year with Cleveland), the starters have the potential to go toe-to-toe with any four-deep rotation in the NL.

When it comes to the ninth inning, Drew Pomeranz has (mostly) taken over the closer duties vacated by an injured Kirby Yates. Pomeranz has yet to allow a run in 15 appearances (14.0 innings).

The Playoff Format Isn’t Bad for San Diego

The Padres are not likely to catch the Dodgers and win the NL West, sitting 3.5 games back with 14 to play. But that doesn’t matter nearly as much this year. The expanded eight-team playoff field will see all eight teams playing in best-of-three series in the first round. The three division-winners get the top-three seeds; the three runners-up get the next three seeds; and the two teams with the best records among the rest of the field get the final two berths.

If the Dodgers are the #1 seed, which they will be, they’ll get to face the #8 seed with all games in the best-of-three at their home park.  Right now, that would mean facing the San Francisco Giants.

NL Playoff Bracket as of Sep. 9th

Visiting Team Home Team
#8 San Francisco Giants #1 Los Angeles Dodgers
#7 Miami Marlins #2 Atlanta Braves
#6 St Louis Cardinals #3 Chicago Cubs
#5 Philadelphia Phillies #4 San Diego Padres

The Padres would be the #4 seed if the season ended today. They hold a five-game lead on that position over the #5 Phillies and 5.5 on the #6 Cardinals. It’s extremely likely that their first-round series winds up being a best-of-three with one of those two at Petco. They are 16-6 at home, best in the NL.

In a normal year, the Padres would be fighting for a spot in the Wild Card game and, if they won that coin flip, would be staring down a best-of-five with the Dodgers. This year’s format rewards division-winners considerably less.

At +550, the Padres would have to win the pennant nearly 16% of the time to have positive expected value. But they are still available in the +700 range, which has an implied probability of 12.5%. Giving them a 55% chance to advance past the first round, 50% in the second, and 45% in the third, the probability works out to 12.3%.

Taking the Padres at a +700 price tag is reasonable.

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